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U.S. Senator to Block DeSalvo HHS Nomination Due to ACA’s CO-OP Failures

October 21, 2015
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Until the Obama administration explains the failures of the Affordable Care Act’s CO-OP health plan program, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) says he will be blocking all Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominations—including Karen DeSalvo's bid to become assistant secretary for health.

Within the federal government, DeSalvo, M.D., has been working on multiple fronts: since January 2014, she has been serving as National Coordinator for Health IT and leading the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC); last fall it was announced that she would help lead the Obama administration’s response to a potential outbreak of Ebola; and since President Obama nominated her in May 2015, she has been the Acting Assistant Secretary for Health in HHS.

In August, the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on President Obama’s nomination of DeSalvo for permanent Assistant Secretary for Health. That hearing was postponed, but it was believed that DeSalvo would be approved regardless. It was also believed at the time that if the committee approved her nomination, she would likely get a vote by the full Senate.

Now, Sen. Sasse will not be doing DeSalvo any favors “until the Administration gives a complete and transparent accounting of the systematic failures of the Affordable Care Act’s CO-OP program, including CoOportunity in Nebraska and Iowa,” he said in a press release statement.

Created by the ACA, the CO-OP program is designed to help create nonprofit, member-controlled health insurance plans that will offer ACA-compliant policies in the individual and small business markets.  A 15-member advisory board makes recommendations to HHS regarding grants and loans for CO-OPs.

 Indeed, Sasse’s announcement comes on the heels of four new CO-OP failures in Colorado, Oregon, Tennessee and Kentucky. These add to the failures in Nebraska, Iowa, New York, Nevada, and Louisiana. To date, 8 of the original 23 CO-OPs have failed.

On May 6, 2015, Sasse wrote to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell seeking answers regarding CoOpportunity's failure. In June, HHS offered a response, which Sasse called insufficient. That prompted Sasse to send a letter in August detailing nine specific questions. In more than two months since receiving those questions, HHS has not responded, according to Sasse.

“I will act to block consideration and confirmation of every HHS nominee until families who lost their co-op insurance plans get straight answers,” Sasse said in a statement. “Hundreds of thousands of enrollees lost their plans when co-ops in nine states collapsed and these victims deserve clear and honest answers from the bureaucrats who oversaw the mess. Until these families are given complete answers, the Senate should not confirm any HHS nominees. This isn’t a partisan crusade—frankly, Republicans and Democrats from these nine states have an opportunity to stand together and demand answers for our constituents so that this kind of failure never happens again."

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